Author: Leon Blair
With the advent of the digital age, sorting through the vast world of music is easier than ever before. We no longer live in an age where we have to wait for our local radio station to play our favorite song. We can here it anytime we want to on our phones, computers, tablets or whatever the hell else there is out there. For a music fan of any genre, being able to sort through, discover, and listen to any artist we want to is one of the best problems we could have, even if we never get to hear all we want to.
But what’s that old saying again? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure? While not directly applicable here, it’s true that consumers having unlimited access to thousands upon thousands of artists makes it harder for the artists themselves to capture one’s attention. It’s hard enough even when you’re backed by a major label, but to do it all independently with no manager, agent, or label? Good luck my friend.
Author: Leon Blair
So as many of you probably know by now, despite being a Country oriented blog, I have been known to review music that sits outside a little outside of what could be considered that. Heck, I covered albums from the likes of Lydia Loveless, Robert Ellis, Elizabeth Cook, and Chris King which all borrowed from the likes of Pop and Rock music.
If there's one genre of music I'm surprised I haven't ever talked about though, it's Bluegrass. Trying to answer why that is just isn’t something I have much of a good answer for. Heck, it's closer to Country than anything else, so you’d think it would be a good fit for the blog. Even with that being said, Bluegrass really feels like one of the last “pure” genres of music out there. One that really hasn't been torn and twisted by corporate labels to make a quick buck. Sure, there's been acts that have tried to modernize it like the Punch Brothers and the Infamous Stringdusters, but not by ripping out the genre's heart and soul. For the most part, with its healthy balance of traditional leaning acts mixed in with acts who are evolving the genre, Bluegrass feels like the genre all other genres wish they could be.
This brings us to Broken Records husband and wife duo, Jim and Lynna Woolsey, a Bluegrass act that retains the glorious richness of traditional bluegrass. Now, I rely on a ton of blogs and other media outlets to find new music to check out. I owe the credit of finding these two to Bill Frater's radio show over at FTB Podcasts. Their newest album, Heart and Soul, Blood and Bone is only their sophomore release, however both Jim and Lynna have been surrounded by music all their life. After sitting down and really digging into their latest album, I think I'm going to have to cover more bluegrass music folks. This is an excellent album.
If you're looking for a motif on this album it's “time”. Sure, it's the name of the opening song, but it also sets the stage for a large portion of the album. Joined by the always excellent Jim Lauderdale in the opening track, the song carries a message that states that time is a fragile thing. We can't go back in life. We must move on and do all that we can in our time on Earth. Of course, while we all are aware of that, it's still a hard to pill to swallow, even for our narrators. Tracks like “Give Me Back Tomorrow” and “Yesterday” both reflect on times forgotten, the former in a much melancholier way than the latter. Elsewhere, an album highlight in “Notes From Home” is another bittersweet tale that tells of an old man who at this stage in his life has nothing left but notes and pictures of his family from long ago. Time may only move one way, but that doesn't mean it has to be easy. It's okay to reflect on the past and relive the memories that were once made. Those are the times we remember the most anyway, right?
Other tracks on the album deal with the struggles of rural life in America (an essential Bluegrass theme). The title track highlights the hard work and struggles that came with our narrator's grandparents living in the Depression. “Pike County Blues” takes a different spin as it tries to interject humor into some of the failings of our narrator (and does a pretty great job with it if I might add). Then you have what seem to be some more personal tracks here such as “Just Like Me” and “Last Train Out”, the latter of which is a beautiful song dedicated to Lynna's mother, Elsie. The former of which, “Just Like Me” tells of the imperfections in all of us, highlighting that none of us are perfect and that we all learn from each other. Again, the lyrics and themes are all compelling and insightful.
For much as the lyrics and themes do to grab your attention, the instrumentation and production just may be what ultimately take the cake as the album's greatest assets. Now, when I said that I didn't cover much Bluegrass before, I didn't mean to imply that I know nothing about the genre. While I haven't made the time to listen to as much as I would like to, I can safely say I recognize some excellent bluegrass music when I hear it, and that's what I hear on this album. So much credit needs to be given to producer Mike Sumner (who also plays banjo on here) for crafting an album that quite simply put sounds beautiful. Like I said before, it's traditional bluegrass complete with plenty of luscious fiddle, banjo, mandolin, bass, and dobro that make way for some incredible solos on this album. The best example would be on what I consider to be the album's best track, “Freedom”. It's a look into the lives of soldiers and the effects that the aftermath of a war can have on them. I really enjoyed the buildup to each chorus and how the fiddle was used to accompany that buildup. Honestly there's beautiful instrumentation all across the album. These two know how to make bluegrass music.
Vocally, both Jim and Lynna have the ability to evoke a lot of passion into their works. I can't find the words to express how much Lynna's vocals on “Last Train Out” really bring out the gut punching effect this song carries. I will say that Jim's voice is better suited for more heartwarming and or melancholy material such as “Give Me Back Tomorrow”, and “Just Like Me”. “Pike County Blues” certainly is a funny song on paper, but I'm not quite sure I get the full level of humor that I'm supposed to get from Jim's more serious vocal tone.
But hey, that's an extremely minor nitpick on an absolutely gorgeous album. Heart and Soul, Blood and Bone is an extremely well-crafted album and a triple threat when it comes to great songwriting, vocals, and production. It really makes me ashamed that I haven't covered more bluegrass acts by now. For me, I'm giving it a solid 9 out of 10. Not only does the album sport an awesome cover, but it's easily one of the best of the year folks. Heart and Soul, Blood and Bone comes highly recommended.
Best Songs: "Freedom", "Last Train Out", "Give Me Back Tomorrow (feat. John Pennell
Author: Leon Blair
There's an old saying that says to not judge a book by its cover. As great as that rule is, I think it's safe to say that there are times when we all don't exactly follow it real well. Nowhere has that been more apparent for me than in the music world. Heck, I had branded Jon Pardi as nothing but a worthless bro-country singer whenever he released “Up All Night”, and his debut album actually proved to be a pretty great slice of neo-traditional country music. After Jon, I figured that I would be able to avoid that kind of unfair branding again. That is, until I heard Drake White.
Now don't get me wrong. I always thought Drake had good intentions with his music, but I would be lying if I said that any of his singles blew me out of the water. Even with that being said, I had always figured that there was more to Drake White than his singles suggested (a common occurrence for mainstream country acts), and I was definitely eager to check out his debut album, Spark.
Author: Leon Blair
Do you know those bands or individual artists that you keep saying you need to check out but unfortunately never get around to? I've honestly probably said it at least a million times by now. It's even harder when you're a blogger considering your main focus is usually on the music that's coming out right now and the artists fighting for your attention at this very moment. Finding time to take a break and listen to those other artists can be hard.
As you've probably guessed by now, American Aquarium is one of those bands that I just unfortunately am not as familiar with as I'd like to be. I heard their 2015 album, Wolves and actually really enjoyed that. Between other life events and other music vying for my attention however, I'd be lying if I said it didn't get lost in the shuffle throughout the year. That being said, I knew that lead singer, BJ Barham's upcoming solo studio album, Rockingham would be my chance to redeem myself, especially when I heard that it would be a deeply personal album, one that was inspired by the November 2015 Bataclan attack.
Author: Leon Blair
Of the many elements that comprise what country music is, somehow along the way we decided to stupidly place emphasis on an artist's origins as a source of credibility. Hell, let's forget things like being able to connect with a listener or tug at the heartstrings, it's all about where you're from.
I know where you think this conversation is going to. Well, it's not a matter of city versus country. Let's all put aside any personal opinions we have for the moment and look at some facts for a moment. It's no secret that the great state of Georgia over recent years has become a punching bag for many who bemoan the rise of several “less than stellar” acts in mainstream country music.
And again, that's unfair. I mean heck, we had Alan Jackson come from there, and while not country, the southern-rock group Blackberry Smoke is another band that earns the highest praise from me.
Country singer songwriter Taylor Alexander as you may have guessed by now is from Georgia, and like Jackson before him is another example of an asset for country music. And as for the type of country music the man presents to the listener, it's none other than the good ol' traditional kind.
Author: Leon Blair
Who can really explain why certain artists rise to the top and others fail to even capture one person’s attention? In a just world you’d think it would be based solely on talent level, but between PR firms, marketing techniques and publicists, it’s a bit harder to explain why certain artists are able to capture peoples’ attention more so than others.
It’s not exactly like we’ve only seen a resurgence of traditional country music come into fruition just recently. While hard to find on the radio (although we’re making progress), traditional country music is very alive and well, make no mistake. As I stated in my recent Kelsey Waldon review though, it’s not just enough to play country music these days. You have to have something more.
It’s really hard to explain why former thrash-metal singer Cody Jinks has amassed such a large and loyal following over the past few years other than he’s just got “it”. The “it” that comes to so very few singers and is indeed a gift of the highest honor. It’s not enough to just have “it” though, you have to know how to use it. Cody Jinks knows and understands country music extremely well, and on his latest album, I’m Not The Devil he uses his talents to make his best album yet.
Author: Zackary Kephart
I know what you’re thinking. Zack, what the hell could this possibly be? These aren’t cowboys carrying on the traditions of country music. They’re three dudes playing poker with the middle one looking like Jim Carrey’s stunt double from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. What could you possibly have to say about this or convince me to check it out?
Well actually, I have quite a lot to say about the Las Vegas based band, The Royal Hounds. I admit, I like to go into new projects completely blind, letting the music doing the talking and deciding whether or not I want to cover this particular album and band. Let me tell you folks, if you go into the discography of the Royal Hounds completely blind, you’ll be in for a surprise, and most of all a treat.
Known for their crazy live shows filled with outrageous antics and high energy performances, the Royal Hounds are a band with heart. And you better believe that all of that energy and craziness is evident on their latest release, Poker All Night Long, hence why this is quite the project to come into blind.
Author: Leon Blair
As a reviewer, it's my “job” to walk into every piece of music that I listen completely devoid of any bias towards or against an artist. After all, we're looking to be as fair as we can be, and having any existing pre-expectations can really hurt one's view of how he or she approaches the project.
But hey, we're all humans at the end of the day, and I'll tell you a little secret. None of us can walk into a project completely unfazed once we get something into our heads. Coming into Cody Johnson's Gotta Be Me album, I really didn't know what to think, mostly because peoples' views of him were extremely divided. Some people couldn't get enough of this guy while others seemed a little more lukewarm to his material. Granted, this happens with every artist, but rarely to the extent I saw with Cody Johnson.
It's something that nearly every avid music fan has said or thought to themselves at one time or another: "so much music, so little time."
And boy is it true. There's an utterly enormous amount of music in existence stretching back almost a century to the dawn of recorded music, and an overwhelming amount of new music coming out at all times. Even just within the country genre and its related offshoots, hundreds of interesting albums come out every year to add to the countless thousands already released. No one has enough time for it all. And if you're interested in other kinds of music, as I am, God help you.
Fans have been debating what country music is and what it should sound like probably for as long as the concept of "country music" has existed. Between the Nashville Sound and Chet Atkins, the outlaw backlash, the Urban Cowboy fad, the neotraditional movement, the Garth/Shania boom years, "Murder on Music Row", the rise of alt-country and Americana, Taylor Swift winning Entertainer of the Year, "old farts and jackasses", the emergence of bro-country, the out-of-nowhere success of Chris Stapleton and all the other notable events and eras, I'm sure you've heard all the arguments and back-and-forths by now. At this point, rehashing this whole debate is not beating a dead horse, it's exhuming the body and lighting it on fire. But if you'll indulge me, I'd like to give my thoughts on this subject.
I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is, "What exactly is country music?" The biggest issue surrounding this whole debate is that there's no official, objective criteria that determines what is or isn't country. It's not like a deity has descended from the heavens to inscribe the one true definition of country music onto a stone tablet, nor have scientists discovered a new theorem that can be used to irrefutably prove whether a piece of music is or isn't country. Webster and Wikipedia are vague, and talk more about country music's influences and places of origin than what it actually sounds like. Ultimately, it seems people's conceptions of country music vary depending on when they were born, what music they've been exposed to, and what they like.